Raphael Warnock became Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator on the heels of a razor-thin runoff election Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Warnock garnered little more than 2.23 million votes, or 50.6 percent, to unseat Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler who’s vote total was just shy of 2.18 million, according to unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State.
With more than 99 percent of the votes tallied, Warnock held a slim lead over Loeffler by 54,183 votes. It was enough of a margin for him to clear the threshold for an outright victory.
“We were told that we couldn’t win this election,” he told his supporters in a virtual victory speech on Twitter early Wednesday. “But tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible. May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream.”
Georgia law dictates that a trailing candidate can demand a recount if the victory margin is 0.5 percentage points or less. At 10:30 a.m., Warnock’s projected lead stood at 1.22 percentage points, according to the unofficial results.
Election officials worked well into the wee hours tallying votes in the two razor-thin Senate runoffs. Fellow Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff held an even slimmer advantage over Sen. David Perdue, leading the GOP incumbent by just 17,065 votes.
The Associated Press declared Warnock the winner of his race early Wednesday morning. Loeffler was trying to retain a senate seat, to which Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her. The 50-year-old businesswoman, who owns the WNBA team Atlanta Dream, was selected as the interim replacement after Johnny Isakson resigned from the seat in December 2019.
Loeffler attacked Warnock as a “radical liberal” throughout her campaign. She was accused of darkening his skin in a Facebook ad this month. A coalition of Black pastors criticized Loeffler for her racially tinged attacks on Warnock, deeming her TV and radio ads to be shots at the Black church.
Loeffler had not conceded by Wednesday morning and said she planned to travel to Washington, D.C., today to challenge Congress’ vote certifying the results of the presidential election.
“We’ve got some work to do here. This is a game of inches. We’re going to win this election,” Loeffler said in a short message to her supporters shortly after midnight, according to AP.
Warnock, a 51-year-old Savannah native, has served for 15 years as pastor of Ebenzer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Warnock, in his victory speech, pledged to work together even with his detractors to build what King described as a “beloved community.”
“I am going to the senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election,” he said. “In this moment in American history, Washington has a choice to make. In fact, all of us have a choice to make. Will we continue to divide, distract and dishonor one another? Or will we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Will we play political games while real people suffer, or will we win righteous fights together standing shoulder to shoulder for the good of Georgia — for the love of this country?”
Warnock went on to speak with pride of his mother, a former sharecropper, being able to cast a ballot for him.
“The 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” the Senator-elect said.
He talked about addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and paying essential workers an “essential wage.”
“I know that we can beat this pandemic with science and good old-fashioned common sense. I know that we can rebuild a fairer economy by respecting the dignity of work and workers who do it.”
President-elect Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated Jan. 20. With Warnock’s victory essentially in tow, Democrats will grab complete control of both Congressional houses if Ossoff is able to eek out a win over Perdue. As of Wednesday afternoon, Ossoff reportedly held a slight lead over Perdue by around 16,000 votes, but The Associated Press had not officially called the race. Perdue, in a statement from his campaign, seemed to shift his focus to a recount.
“As we’ve said repeatedly over the last several weeks and as recently as this evening, this is an exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate and the voices of Georgians are heard,” the statement read. “We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”
In a video message Wednesday, Ossoff declared victory. “It is with humility that I thank the people of Georgia for electing me to serve you in the United States Senate,” Ossoff said Wednesday morning. If the 33-year-old former journalist and congressional aide pulls off the upset, he would become the youngest member of the Senate.
Both Senate runoffs were needed to square the two races because no candidate reached the 50 percent threshold to win the Nov. 3 general election.
Warnock thanked his family, supporters and campaign team.
“Whether you voted for me or not, know this,” he said. “I hear you, I see you. And every day that I’m in the United States Senate, I will fight for you. I will fight for your family.”